The War on Democracy, directed by John Pilger.
John Pilger’s first cinema-released documentary is a damning indictment of US policy in Latin America, past and present. Mainly focusing on Venezuela, especially the US-backed coup in 2002 which temporarily overthrew the democratically elected government of Hugo ChÃ¡vez, the film unmasks the contempt the US ruling class has for the opinions and rights of working-class people as well as the atrocities they have committed in the name of freedom.
By Edd Mustill, Socialist Party
The film begins by showing the stark contrast of living conditions in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, which are replicated across Latin America. While parts of the centre look like the business district of any major Western city, the surrounding hillsides are covered in poorly built slums known as barrios, where the majority live in dire poverty.
Pilger explains how historically such people have been ignored altogether by the ruling classes of the Latin American nations, who see themselves as part of a privileged international capitalist class and have far more in common with the wealthy of the USA than their fellow countrymen.
One Caracas resident, amidst the almost sickening ornate dÃ©cor of his huge home, explains how he may soon have to emigrate to Miami, his “second home”, because the situation under ChÃ¡vez is becoming “unbearable” for him.
And yet the election of ChÃ¡vez in 1998 allowed the masses to burst onto the political scene for the first time in years, as shown by the massive display of support which restored his government after the 2002 coup.
One almost unbelievable aspect of the film is the clips from mainstream pro-US media channels where prominent commentators constantly de-nounce the ChÃ¡vez government as “criminal” and call for ChÃ¡vez’s murder. This despite the fact that ChÃ¡vez and his supporters have won eight elections in the last decade.
But as one pro-ChÃ¡vez activist states, in a sentence that could barely be understood by the personality-obsessed capitalist media: “This is not just ChÃ¡vez’s struggle. It’s our struggle.” Those wanting a film charting the policies and direction of ChÃ¡vez’s Bolivarian Revolution, however, will be disappointed. Some government programmes are touched on, such as the use of oil revenues to fund social programmes, or how articles of the new constitution are printed on the packets of everyday products to make citizens aware of their rights.
But the purpose of the film is not a detailed analysis of the social movements rising across the continent, but an attempt to explain why they came into existence. As such, it is loaded with the dark history of US involvement in the region.
Pilger is not afraid to interview his enemies. In fact he almost certainly chooses the most honest faces of imperialism; those who dare to say what others in the capitalist establishment are afraid to admit. Duane Clarridge, former head of the CIA in South America, explains how the US will not put up with “nonsense” in its back yard. By nonsense he means any political movement independent of American supervision.
Disgustingly, Clarridge flat-out denies that there were thousands of killings after the US-backed coup in Chile in 1973. There were merely hundreds of deaths, he protests, and all in the interests of national security. In the next scene, Pilger shows us the cemeteries and memorials to the victims.
More CIA men explain how they trained death squads at the School of the Americas in Georgia, teaching them that torture and murder were legitimate weapons to use against political opponents. Emotionally, the film is highly charged, reflecting the mood of Latin America’s masses.
A comprehensive explanation of the situation would be impossible to achieve in a 90-minute film, so sadly some important developments like those in Mexico and Brazil are omitted.
Nevertheless, the film is essential viewing for anyone interested in the region, and effectively unmasks the hypocrisy of the “War on Terror”. I would urge everyone, regardless of their political persuasion to see it, as with only eight people in the cinema when I saw it, it felt as though Pilger was preaching to the converted.
Although politically the film has its shortcomings, it does end on an excellent point. Pilger issues a warning to the leftist leaders of the region that if they find themselves seduced by power and wealth, they will suffer the same fate as those they replaced, and the working class will find themselves new leaders in their ongoing struggle.
The War on Democracy will be released in Australia in September by Hopscotch Films. Check local guides.